Letter: Immediate need for daytime shelter

Homeless count found 129 unhoused people

Immediate need for daytime shelter

I want to bring to light some issues we’ve seen in the community regarding shelter space and weather in hopes of having immediate emergency shelter space opened in the Cowichan Valley.

This morning I witnessed a bylaw officer working with about 10 individuals outside of Warmland House Shelter. He was concerned about the wellbeing of these folks and being out in the wet, cold weather. There was one woman in particular who he had health concerns about, stating she was soaking wet and at risk of hypothermia, but had nowhere to turn for help as there are no resources available for sheltering right now. This occurred directly outside two shelter spaces, in direct view of a B.C. Ambulance station, and the Wellness and Recovery centre run by VIHA.

An article from HealthLink BC states that people who live in poorly heated homes can gradually develop hypothermia in temperatures of just 16 C to 18 C. The unhoused population is at a much higher risk of cold exposure injury. Factors that contribute to this risk include wet and windy weather conditions, being over-tired, over-stressed, dehydrated or malnourished, having low body weight, and substance use.

In a ‘Homeless Count’ conducted in 2020 for the Cowichan Valley, there found to be approximately 129 unhoused individuals. This is a rough count completed in just 24 hours and is truly only a sliver of the homeless population in Duncan specifically — not including Lake Cowichan and other surrounding communities. This count also does not account for people who may have been precariously housed or living in extreme poverty at the time it was completed. The population of unhoused folks continues to grow, and we have seen an influx of new people coming to Cowichan. Knowing these numbers, I want to highlight that there are only 16 spaces in this community for people to escape weather and warm up during the day, and only 36 public beds available for overnight stays between Warmland House and the Sobering Centre.

The unhoused are forced to be in constant motion. They are always being moved along from one public space to the next. Public parks are not “public” anymore when you’re homeless — I have argued with enforcement teams on multiple occasions about the definition of “public space” to which I have received several excuses. I can count on one hand the number of public washrooms available to these people to use, all of which are inaccessible at night time. These people have nowhere to be, so they are everywhere, which does not sit well with community members. With only 16 daytime spaces available I can’t help but wonder what people expect from them.

There is an immediate need for daytime shelter space to allow people to warm up, dry off, and escape the weather. We are already seeing the effects of the cold, wet weather on the unhoused folks in this community, and we are barely a month into fall.

There is also a need for significantly more shelter beds for overnight stays. COVID has decreased shelter space, but this can only be used as an excuse for so long. We are over two years into this pandemic with no sign of improvement in the near future.

I will be contacting health officials and urging immediate change within our community.

Thank you for your time.

Baileigh Cage